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Purdue Football: Looking Backwards to Move Forwards

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Coach Brohm returning to his offensive roots could help move the Boilermakers forward.

CUSA Championship - Louisiana Tech v Western Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

First, let me get this out of the way. Jeff Brohm needs to stop with his cloak and dagger, “I’m smarter than everyone else” clown show.

Even if the results justified his refusal to keep the Purdue public informed, I would still consider this amateur hour. The thing is, Purdue is 2-4 with no depth chart and “he’ll play when he’s ready” press conferences. Not only does this smack of desperation, it hasn’t worked. Coach Brohm needs to focus more on Purdue and less on being evasive with an extremely coach friendly (by design) media and fanbase in order to (I assume) try and gain some sort of tactical advantage over the upcoming opponent.

Now, onto the actual article.

When Purdue hired Jeff Brohm to replace Darrell Hazell in 2016 I was ecstatic. Brohm had wrapped up an amazing three year run at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers ran one of the most productive and exciting offenses in college football. After grinding my teeth through the Shoopfence, I was ready for the return of points to Ross-Ade. I knew it might take a season or two to get things into place, but the prospect of ringing up points and making teams like Iowa and Wisconsin score with Purdue in the Big 10 West had me singing the praises of Mike Bobinski.

I’m still waiting for that offense.

I think it’s important for me to explain the offense I thought Purdue was getting with the hire of Jeff Brohm in order to show what he lost between Bowling Green and West Lafayette. He was at Western Kentucky for 3 seasons. His teams finished 6th, 3rd, and 1st in the nation in points per game during that time period.

In the interest of brevity, I’m only going to take a look at his 2016 offense and compare it to his 2018 (his best at Purdue) and 2020 Purdue offense. 2016 is the season that landed him the Purdue job and cemented his reputation as an “offensive genius”. He hasn’t come close to replicating it at Purdue....yet.

Western Kentucky 2016

(all stats are per game)

Overall

Points: 45.5 (1st of 128)

Passing

Attempts: 33.6

Completions: 21.8

Yards: 336.8

Touchdowns: 3

Rushing

Attempts: 34.8

Yards: 186.4

Yards/Rush: 5.4

Touchdowns: 2.5

Purdue 2018

Overall

Points: 30.5 (52nd of 130)

Passing

Attempts: 39.2

Completions: 25.6

Yards: 307.5

Touchdowns: 2.2

Rushing

Attempts: 30.8

Yards: 136.4

Average: 4.4

Touchdowns: 1.5

Purdue 2020

Overall

Points: 29.8 (71st of 127)

Passing

Attempts: 43.5

Completions: 29.3

Yards: 309

Touchdowns: 3

Rushing

Attempts: 25

Yards: 81.5

Average: 3.3

Touchdowns: .7

To make this a little easier on the eyes, I’ll go ahead and combine everything.

Brohm Offense

Overall

Points: (WK ‘16) 45.5 (1st); (PU ‘18) 30.5(52nd); (PU ‘20) 29.3 (71st)

Passing

Attempts: (WK ‘16) 45.5; (PU ‘18) 39.2; (PU ‘20) 43.5

Completions: (WK ‘16) 21.8; (PU ‘18) 25.6; (PU ‘20) 29.3

Yards: (WK ‘16) 336.8; (PU ‘18) 307.5; (PU ‘20) 309

Touchdowns: (WK ‘16) 3; (PU ‘18) 2.2; (PU ‘20) 3

Rushing

Attempts: (WK ‘16) 34.8; (PU ‘18) 30.8; (PU ‘20) 25

Yards: (WK ‘16) 186.8; (PU ‘18) 136.4; (PU ‘20) 81.5

Average: (WK ‘16) 5.4; (PU ‘18) 4.4; (PU ‘20) 3.3

Touchdowns: (WK ‘16) 3; (PU ‘18) 1.5; (PU ‘20) .7

What Happened to the Run Game?

Purdue’s run game has seen a steady decline over Brohm’s tenure at Purdue, culminating in Purdue finishing dead last in the Big10 in rushing yards/game in 2020. It would be one thing if Brohm was ringing up points like Mike Leach (pre SEC) with his passing game, but the results have been marginal, even with an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Brohm’s offense, without a running game, is average at best.

Recruiting

Some of the blame on Purdue’s running futility can be placed squarely on recruiting. Brohm’s running game with D.J. Knox and Markell Jones toting the rock and a cobbled together offensive line composed of 3 Hazell recruits and two graduate transfers in 2018, while not up to his Western Kentucky standards, was serviceable. His running game with Horvath (former walk-on) toting the rock behind a Hazell recruit, 3 Brohm recruits, and a grad transfer has been...poor.

Individually, Horvath, Dorue, and Murphy are good players, but as a unit, they’re essentially different variations on the same player. All 3 are 220+ backs who rely more on power than speed and elusiveness. Purdue has no “change of pace” back in 2020. In 2018, Markell Jones provided the power and Knox provided the speed and elusiveness. In 2020 Brohm is bringing in Dorue as a short yardage back to spell the 230 pound Horvath. It’s a basic failure to construct a coherent roster, and it confuses me to no end.

I honestly can’t tell if Purdue has prioritized power backs, or if they prioritized the best back willing to come to Purdue, and they happened to be power backs. Anthony Wales, Brohm’s stud running back at Western Kentucky in 2016 was a slightly built 5’10, 195, and he ran for 1621 yards and 27 touchdowns as a Senior. He also pulled down 30 receptions for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brohm has yet to recruit a player in that mold at Purdue. Da’Joun Hewitt is as close as he’s come, and the 5’10, 190 pound back managed 6 carries in 2 seasons before opting out a few weeks ago. He inherited the 5’7, 200 pound Knox from Hazell and Knox is his best back to date during his tenure at Purdue.

There is still time to remedy this situation in the 2021 class, but the coaching staff is going to have to hustle. I’m not sure if Murphy or Hewitt (both opted out before the end of the season) will return in 2021. They might, they might not, but either way, Purdue has room on the roster for another back. I was hopeful Byron Threats would be that sort of back, but he decided to decommit and head to Cincinnati where he was recruited as a running back and not an “athlete”. Threats would currently be Purdue’s highest rated recruit in the 2021 class.

One player to keep in eye on is Ja’Quz Cross out of Fordyce, Arkansas. He isn’t a highly rated recruit, but he was a dominant at the 2A level in Arkansas both as a receiver and a safety. I think he gets a shot at running back for the Boilermakers considering he’s the only player in the current class with the potential to play the position and he was recruited by Coach Barclay. For me, he’s the most interesting player in the 2021 class, but it’s almost impossible to evaluate a player against that level of competition.

Another potential solution could be currently uncommited Dothan, Alabama running back Jaylin White. He’s a high 3*, 5’10, 185 speed back that had Purdue in his final 3 with Florida and Florida State before backing off his commitment date to rethink things. Since then a few other teams, like Mississippi State, have made a play for White, who has kept his recruiting under wraps for the most part.

Running back is also a position where you can find quality transfers that can contribute early. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Purdue go that route to find a change of pace back either, especially if White decides to stay in the south. The running game needs another explosive option in the backfield.

I won’t touch on the offensive line recruiting here, because that’s an entirely different article, but needless to say, things have to improve up front or the passing and running game may not get off the ground in 2021. Both tackles are potentially graduating (Hazell recruit and grad transfer from UTEP) and no replacements, as far as I know, are on the current roster.

Play Calling

Beyond recruiting, Purdue’s rushing woes can be placed directly at the feet of Jeff Brohm’s play calling. His final year at Western Kentucky, he averaged slightly more run plays than pass plays. In 2020, Purdue ended one game with negative rushing yards, and another game with 2 rushing yards. It’s hard to explain, because on occasion he remembers you can run the ball and when he commits to running, Horvath has produced solid results. In Purdue’s 2 wins to start the season, he put up 129 yards on 21 carries against Iowa and 102 yards on 22 carries against Illinois. In Purdue’s 4 losses, the closest he’s come to 20 carries is against Rutgers, and he put up 101 yards on 19 carries.

Purdue, in theory, can run the ball. Horvath is averaging 5 yards a carry on the season, and has proven to be an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Brohm, for reasons unbeknownst to me, abandoned a productive run game after the Illinois game, and other than a brief resurgence against Rutgers, has chosen to make Purdue a 1 dimensional offense.

In Summary

Purdue’s offense under Jeff Brohm, despite the hype, has been underwhelming. He had the top scoring offense in the nation at Western Kentucky featuring a balanced attack. He has the 71st rated offense in the nation at Purdue featuring a pass dominant offense.

Getting down to brass tacks, Brohm is paid over 6 million a year because of his offense, and it’s not getting the job done. You can point fingers at the defense and special teams if you like, but he’s not the head coach of Purdue because of his defense and special teams. He’s the coach at Purdue because of his offense. Purdue hired an innovative, balanced attack and are getting a generic version of the air raid at the moment.

You see a hints of what made Brohm one of the hottest coaches in America a few short seasons ago (the brilliantly schemed touchdown to Garrett Miller against Northwestern comes to mind) but those moments have been few and far between. It’s time for Brohm to get back to what got him the Purdue job in the first place. He needs to run the ball, and if the Boilermakers do end up playing Indiana on Saturday, that would be a nice place to start.

The Hoosier secondary is one of the most opportunistic in the nation, but their run defense, while aggressive, is average at best. Ohio State decided to grind things out on the ground after Fields was picked 3 times. If Ohio State, with a Heisman level quarterback and a flotilla of NFL wide receivers decided to take the the ground, Purdue would be well served to do the same.